- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

The Chinese government is threatening military action because the folks on the other side of the Taiwan Strait have been talking about a new constitution. That’s bad enough in itself, but worse because the island republic is preparing to say that its capital, Taipei, is not also the capital of all of China.

Now you might think that would please the oligarchs who run the People’s Republic of China. But you’d be wrong.

They want Taiwan to continue under the constitution that Chiang Kai-shek pushed through in Nanking back in 1947 when he, rather than Mao, was China’s dictator. That was before Chiang had to flee to Taiwan (which had been a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945 — stay with me; this is not easy), bringing the remnants of his army and his dictatorship with him. Chiang thought Taiwan a worthless piece of real estate, useful only as a base for his dream of reconquering the mainland (with help from the United States, of course).

But the Taiwanese whose ancestors had settled the island back in the 18th century had different ideas and by hard work made it into the industrial powerhouse it is today.

Chiang’s gone. His son who succeeded him is gone. Taiwan’s been a democracy for more than a decade, with a popularly elected president and legislature, a new first in all the millennia of ethnic Chinese political practice. That’s tough for Beijing to swallow. But it would be tougher still if Taiwan’s people chose to get rid of the old Chiang Kai-shek constitution and admit that their government doesn’t control Canton or Shanghai. Because that would mean that what it does control is … Taiwan. A Taiwan that has never been a part of the People’s Republic of China.

So what’s the U.S. role in all this? Well, more than 30 years ago, when the idea was to gain an ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon signed something called the Shanghai Communique. Since Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, the U.S. position has been: We will have those diplomatic relations only with Communist China, we’ll state our understanding that China claims the island, but we’ll say nothing for ourselves about Taiwan’s status. Except we will insist any change in status must be accomplished peacefully, and with the consent of Taiwan’s people.

By the way, we have a law that says these things: PL 96-8, called “The Taiwan Relations Act,” passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate in 1979, the year President Jimmy Carter recognized Beijing.

So now comes to Washington Wen Jiabao, the latest premier of Communist China. And we are told he will demand the United States government warn Taiwan not to draft a new constitution, and therefore continue to claim its government is also the government of all China. And stop annoying Beijing. And if the U.S. refuses to act as Beijing’s errand boy in this, dire and condign things will happen to us.

I have a solution. Let’s tell Wen Jiabao that our sympathies at least in this case track with our law. That means they are with democratic Taiwan. And that if Taiwan is attacked, we’ll do just what President Bush said once before: We’ll do whatever is necessary to help Taiwan defend itself.

Harvey Feldman is a retired ambassador who was one of the authors of the Taiwan Relations Act. He is now senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

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